You might say Bell Media was the saving grace for What Would Sal Do? Or maybe the Canadian company was doing God’s work? Whatever the cliché, without CraveTV, Sal might never have been aired. It’s a resurrection of biblical proportions. OK, we’ll stop now.
All eight half-hour Season 1 episodes of What Would Sal Do? arrive Friday on CraveTV, but in the summer of 2016, Andrew De Angelis’ comic creation was dead in the water. Last June, Allarco Entertainment was granted creditor protection. Allarco owns Super Channel, Sal‘s original home. With creditor protection in place, What Would Sal Do?, Slasher and Tiny Plastic Men couldn’t air on the pay channel and were released to their production companies to be shopped around. Sal‘s producers, New Metric Media, landed a deal with Bell Media. No wonder, really; New Metric’s Letterkenny has been a success for CraveTV and Sal is a natural fit.
Sal stars Dylan Taylor (most recently of CBC’s Pure) as the titular character, a foul-mouthed overachiever who has lived a life of laziness and questionable decisions in Sudbury, Ont. That all changes when his mother, Maria (Jennifer Dale) blows his mind with the following info: Sal is the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.
“The show actually came from two ideas in my head,” De Angelis—who has written for Mr. D, 18 to Life and Orphan Black—says of Sal‘s origins. “One was just this thought of if there was a Second Coming, how would it go in today’s world? What would the difficulties be? I’ve also been fascinated with the entitled generation who are raised—mine included—spoiled rotten and they just think they’re great and that everything they do is wonderful. Once they’re adults they’ll realize how ill-prepared for the world they are.”
That’s established in the opening minutes of the debut, “Punches Pilot,” as director Samir Rehem pulls in on Sal sitting at the dining room table. A distraught Maria—a dear friend has just passed away—slumps into a seat, heartbroken. Sal, hoping to help, offers to make her some pasta. Just one problem.
“So, how the fuck do you make pasta?” he asks.
“Oh my God,” Maria sighs. It’s then she reveals to Sal his lofty expectations. He is, understandably, incredulous … and overwhelmed.
“It’s a pleasure to be in a Canadian comedy,” Taylor told us during a 2015 set visit to Sudbury. “We’re playing this so straight. It’s written so well and the scenarios are so funny. This is clown work and a clown is someone who is just in over their head. Sal is told he’s Jesus and he’s woefully unprepared for it.”
At first blush, Sal isn’t a likable guy. Strutting around Sudbury, wearing tearaway pants and making fun of everyone isn’t the stuff of a lead, more like the obnoxious friend. Taylor says the balance they struck to connect with viewers is to portray Sal as someone who is a good person at his core who “became a douchebag because he was spoiled and because of how he was raised.” The love he has for Maria and best friend Vince (Ryan McDonald) makes him endearing.
“This was the opportunity to play a completely unique and original role like nobody has ever seen before,” Dale said of signing on to Sal. “If anybody had said to me 10 years ago, ‘This is what you’ll be doing,’ I could never have dreamed the part.” Aside from the series’ originality, Dale said Maria is a grounded character full of contradictions. She is a religious person whose doubts are creeping in, has a mouth like a truck driver and has no sexual experience.
“It’s not because she’s ugly or anything,” Dale explained. “She has made this choice and that’s a very hard thing to imagine. It’s kind of like playing an alien.”
What Would Sal Do? marks not only a departure for Dale but Scott Thompson too. After almost exclusively comedic roles throughout his career, the Kids in the Hall member jumped at playing Father Luke because it’s so different from his usual gigs.
“There have been other somewhat serious parts I’ve been cast in, but the difference in those is that they had an agenda,” Thompson said during a break in filming. “This is the first part that’s just a part. I’ve been hired on [in the past] because of my comedy but also because I was gay and they wanted me to do gay parts. [Father Luke] is not about my persona and my baggage.” Sal is a comedy, but there a several serious and downright tender moments. One notable few minutes in Episode 1 features Luke and Sal arguing over religion and peanut allergies; you see the paternal qualities in Luke that extend past his title.
“You understand that Father Luke is not a charlatan, he actually believes,” Thompson said. “What I like about that scene is Luke is filled with this conviction that God is talking through Sal. It’s funny, it’s dramatic and he also wants to use this to advance his career.”
Season 1 of What Would Sal Do? arrives Friday on CraveTV.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.